SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Those lightweight quadcopters are flying over us more than we may know. In some cases they are involved in emergency operations.
Santa Barbara County Fire Education Officer Mike Eliason has been using one for several weeks, and has images from the sky at a low altitude over the Miguelito fire in Lompoc, the Deltopia street party in Isla Vista, and the Amgen bike race in Santa Barbara.
In one test, a fire crew member when out of sight in an overgrown grassy area on lower San Marcos Pass. He simulated a lost person who might be injured.
Eliason launched the quadcopter straight up over the open space, and in one minute he saw the "missing" person. While looking at the copter image being send back to his Iphone he said, "and he's waving at us so it looks like we found him. Yet we can't seen him from the roadway."
In real life that could be used to find an injured person or a lost Alzheimer's patient.
"And we can use it for urban search and rescue, vehicle over the side, vegetation fires, and for the training of firefighters to show the progression of the fire. It's amazing," said Eliason.
Fire Information Captain David Sadecki says he has specific approved uses for the quadcopter. "It's evolving. It's new. It's innovative. It allows us to get eyes in the sky but we do have to be careful. We don't want to violate anyone's rights, their privacy rights. So we have to use it sparingly," said Sadecki.
At Samy's Camera in Santa Barbara, the quadcopters are hot items.
"Yea it's definitely the talk of the town. When people see it flying or come in here when I am demoing it," said Nacho Loza with Samy's. He says there are many upgraded versions with special features that many adventure and movie photographers are interested in.
He says one unit can literally follow a surfer through a run and have a steady level shot. Loza can't recall this type of closeup photographer at that level prior to the invention of the quadcopters with a camera attachment.
He also stresses responsibility when you are at the controls. Loza urges users to practice in an open area and stay with ethical rules.
The quadcopters have a built in safety feature, that is activated when they are no longer in touch with the controller or if the batteries get low. The craft immediately returns to the spot where the controller launched it.
The quadcopters can run a buyer from $1000. to $2500. to start. Plus there are many add on components and extra batteries that are often purchased.